OTTAWA—NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh used his keynote speech at the party’s convention Saturday to portray Canada as a country riven by economic gaps, racism and gender bias that the Liberal government has failed to address.
In what could be a preview for the NDP’s electoral pitch under its new leader, Singh attacked Justin Trudeau’s government for dropping its pledge to reform the federal electoral system and disappointing Canadians who want steeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. He made the case that the Liberals have fallen short and broken promises while Canada is beset by inequality and intolerance.
“My friends, this is not as good as it gets,” Singh said, backlit by a giant screen that glowed NDP orange.
“Government belongs to us and it should be making choices that build an economy that works better for all of us.”
Drawing on resolutions that had been approved by party members at the convention earlier in the day, Singh said an NDP government would extend universal health care to cover prescription medicine, dental services and eye care. He also said high-speed internet connections should be considered public infrastructure.
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But the main theme of his address was inequality. He lamented what he described as a concentration of wealth in the top 1 per cent of income earners, pledged to close the wage gap between men and women, and claimed that the provision of health care in Canada has eroded to a “patchwork” of uneven service across the country.
As the party considers a renewed policy to prevent harassment in its ranks, Singh endorsed the #MeToo movement that has seen numerous women come forward with stories of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour — including allegations against men in NDP circles — and singled out anti-Black racism as “one of the most pernicious” forms of bigotry in Canadian society.
Singh also said he was “shaken” after an all-white jury in Saskatchewan found farmer Gerald Stanley not guilty in the shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie, a Cree man.
“We can’t tackle inequality without naming the problems,” Singh said.
“Hate is like a fire. Once allowed to grow, it spreads, consuming all. That’s why we must stop it in its tracks together.”
Immediately after his speech Saturday, 90.7 per cent of delegates voted against holding a new leadership contest. The procedure is part of every NDP convention, and caused Singh’s predecessor, Thomas Mulcair, to lose his position when he received just 48 per cent support from delegates at the 2016 event in Edmonton. Singh, 39, won on the first ballot of the party’s ensuing leadership contest last October, when he became the first non-white leader of a major federal party in Canada.
Singh’s endorsement as leader followed an afternoon of discussion over dozens of policy resolutions on the floor of the convention. Delegates solidified the party’s support for certain policies that Singh had already proposed for the party in recent months.
The NDP formalized its commitment to decriminalizing the possession of all drugs, marking a distinction with the Liberal government, which has repeatedly said it is focused only on legalizing marijuana. The party also called on the government to eliminate the controversial practice of police carding, also known as “street checks,” by banning the RCMP from performing the checks and pledging to work with provinces to ensure the ban is extended to non-federal police forces.
Singh called for the NDP to support both initiatives during last year’s leadership race.
But not all motions were carried as smoothly. John Hutton, a 28-year-old student at Montreal’s Concordia University, drafted a resolution that would commit the party to working with the provinces to eliminate post-secondary tuition in Canada. When it got to the floor, however, the motion was referred to a review for a slight change to the wording — meaning that it will be considered by delegates only if there is time to address it during a final “emergency debate” window for outstanding resolutions on Sunday morning.
Holly Price, a party activist who worked on Manitoba MP Niki Ashton’s leadership campaign last year, said student delegates were concerned that the motion would die alongside others that likely won’t be considered for votes during the convention. These include some of the more contentious resolutions submitted by NDP members, such as a motion to explicitly oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline that has sparked a feud between NDP premiers in British Columbia and Alberta.
Late Saturday, a resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was brought to the floor, sparking one of the most heated discussions of the convention so far. Some delegates approached the microphone and claimed the party was trying to stifle debate on the issue, by placing other resolutions on the issue that were endorsed by more riding associations near the bottom of the convention agenda.
Singh, meanwhile, avoided mentioning pipelines and Palestine in his speech, and also steered clear of any reference to his pledge to decriminalize drug possession.
The convention was scheduled to conclude Sunday after a final round of resolution debates.